It was a struggle to get this week's piece together (slightly late: sorry, Ed), as my last few weeks have been jam-packed with all kinds of film-making intrigue on Gary Kurtz and myself's movie, "Panzer 88".
But, without any further ado, we head off into...
THE FUNNY PAPERS!
I'm going to break with convention this time: not only am I starting with my Comic Reviews, but I'm headed off over to the Minors, as there's an auspicious date I need to tackle more than anything. Yes: over at Dark Horse, Mike Mignola finishes off Hellboy's story, with "Hellboy in Hell #3 & 4".
I'll be frank: because of my involvement with the movie, Hellboy is one of the big pushpins in my career, and I've been dreading reading these issues (and honestly stalling getting to them) as I love the Big Guy so much.
Way back in 1996, I flew over from England to meet Mike in Portland, Oregon.
Hellboy as a comic book was in its infancy back then, and I had reams of questions to ask Mike as I began adapting the film, and Mike was both forthcoming and candid with his answers.
One of my notes was: "So, where are you ultimately going with this character?"
Even back then, unlike George Lucas, Mike had a very clear idea of where the character came from, and where it was headed. He told me about Hellboy leaving the B.P.R.D.; and being the King of England; and all these crazy things I'd keep mum about for 20 years.
And also, back on that breezy, bright afternoon in 1996, Mike told me basically what I would wait to read in Issue 3 of this story: the ultimate confrontation of Hellboy finally confronting his "brothers", the other Princes Of Hell. I was surprised reading it that this portion of the story was over so fast, as I'd always imagined (probably building it up out of all proportion in my imagination) this would be a major "Lord Of The Rings"-like battle campaign, although Mike never specifically said it'd be portrayed that way. Maybe Mike just wanted to get this thing that was on his back for 20 years, over and done with? I dunno.
The final issue, #4, here is nearly all exposition, with Edward Grey (now deceased Victorian paranormal investigator) "filling in the blanks" to Hellboy. And so, the story ends.
Or does it?
See, back in '96…one of my burning questions to Mike was: "What exactly IS Hellboy's Giant Stone Hand?" And it's a question that Hellboy himself comes within a gnat's breath of discovering in Issue #3 of "Hellboy In Hell". Except…Mike holds back here from actually telling the reader!
Which I found really, really interesting.
Mostly, as Mike confided in me what Hellboy's Hand REALLY was back in 1996, and I think my surprised response then was: "Oh!" But if Mike ain't saying', I ain't tellin'. He's obviously left it as his get-out clause. And, quite right too. Your secret's safe with me, Mike.
Just as a fun trivia note, I'd like to humbly mention it was I who came up with Hellboy's actual name: "Anung Un Rama." As I spoke about with Josh Zyber in an interview for the DVD Talk website nearly a decade ago, on that fateful day I met Mike, I'd done a lot of prep from the few "Helboy" comics that existed. I’d assumed that, like Tolkein, Mike had created his own flowery language with phrases like "Obdith Sancti, Yug Jahood". Because of this, I'd spent a goodly amount of time reverse-engineering his comic book and cross-referencing the esoteric phrases to see how and where they cropped up, and this one thing, "Anung un Rama," kept popping out at me a couple of times.
Rationalizing the phrase in the story's context, it almost seemed it specifically referred to Hellboy himself. Knowing from folklore, if you knew a demon's name you wielded power over it, and that this was something I specifically wanted to do in my plot (as you saw in the final film), I'd resolved to give this to Rasputin as his way of bending Hellboy to his will.
Anyway, I thought I was pretty smart about figuring Mike's language out, and pointedly asked Mike about "Anung Un Rama".
Mike peered at me like I was nuts, then basically told me NONE of the comic book language meant anything, and he made it all up in the shower! So, we had a laugh about that, I used the phrase in the script as Hellboy's name, and – which is the cool thing, that I feel pretty good about – Mike then went back into the later comic books and then specifically also employed that random phrase he came up with as Hellboy's name himself.
But not for the reason of his coloring.
Nope, that was the little private joke homage I made to Howard Hawks movies, as Hawks would always call his girls "Red", and I thought it was amusing. Go figure.)
Back to comics. Still with Mike Mignola at Dark Horse, he and John Arcudi prep their World War Two…well. How DO you term their two-part "Sledgehammer 44"?
And, being in the process of making my supernatural WW2 movie "Panzer 88" myself (hey, that makes it two times 44!), I'm all for World War 2 supernatural yarns. I enjoyed this miniseries, but was simultaneously disappointed it was basically a drawn-out setup for a character that maybe (?) is going to get a new Dark Horse title.
Here goes the plot: in August 1944, an American G.I. called Redding (who has no particular specialty as far as I can see, and tends to whine a lot) is dropped with a troop of soldiers into occupied France, with the intent of playing backup to a hulking humanoid robot wearing a leather jacket: basically, the thuggish ersatz brother to "Atomic Robo" then.
Unlike Atomic Robo's Tesla-powered creation, Sledgehammer (I suppose that's what he's called: he's never really named properly in the story) is fueled by "Vril Energy" (yes, that old Nazi fallback chestnut), and it's hinted at that a British soldier named Fields was encased inside this metal Golem. When the "robot" is critically injured in robot-on-Nazi robot action (as is Redding later himself), the G.I.s hole up in a barn surrounded by a German tank division, who demand the superpower armor. Redding's body transmigrates into the Robot, just in time for someone who I'm almost totally sure will turn out to be Professor Bruttenholme from "Hellboy" to turn up. I enjoyed the story, and look forward to seeing if it spins-off further (although the nitpicker in me was annoyed that a pair of Privates neither saluted nor called "Sir" a Lieutenant and a Corporal they'd just met. What can I say. It's in the details.)
IDW's "Godzilla: The Half Century War #5" culminates that storyline, and what a ride it's been! I've loved this completely insane arc, which totally gets the spirit of Godzilla. This issue began with giant monsters RIDING aircraft carriers into battle against the Big Green Guy (and, you really had to see that to believe it), and culminated in he and Mechagodzilla teaming up to take on everyone else. James Stokoe both wrote and drew this incredibly detailed mini-masterpiece, and my hat goes off to him. Simply fantastic, and great fun.
Again (!) from IDW, "Star Trek: Countdown To Darkness #4" is the final issue of their prequel to J.J. Abrams' super-secret upcoming Paramount movie. The throughline plot here concerned Starfleet office Robert April trying to gain freedom for the Klingon-annexed planet of Phaedus. However, it also ended with an intriguing little snippet: John Harrison (the shadowy character played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie) accessing Starfleet's Data Archives in London.
We know London is in the upcoming movie, and we know Harrison is there, so that was a nice little tease. It's interesting to note that Robert April, the bad guy in this plot, seizes control of the Enterprise basically by using some variant of the Starfleet Prefix Code hack that Khan used in "Star Trek II", something that Kirk rails about her in the comic book to Starfleet Command.
Hmmmm. Do ya think…?
Speaking of Abrams, I wonder if any of you has ever seen the pretty fantastic RED conference talk he did (Abrams is an astonishingly gifted and charismatic orator), part of which features the "Tannen's Mystery Magic Box" he supposedly bought 30 years ago at Tannen's store in New York.
“It represents infinite possibility,” he told the rapt TED audience. “It represents hope. It represents potential.” And then he made the analogy to moviemaking. If you want to know why we're all going nuts for the new "Star Trek", and hung on through all his various TV shows that didn't reveal conclusive answers: well, the answer is in this talk. It's the art of the tease.
The prolonged tease, that magicians do to you, to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you're a "Star Wars" fan, I'm willing to bet the wait for the next "Star Wars" movie may very well be the most frustrating wait for any "Star Wars" movie ever, and you are still going to be salivating when opening day comes: here is the bell, "Ding-a-ling-a-ling."
And even if you watch this talk and understand why you're being manipulated, you likely still won't be able to help yourself.
Now, on to the Big Boys, and let's start with Marvel. (Even though I like and in some cases, love DC titles, I'll admit I'm a Marvel Guy at heart.)
Because I'd just read Ray Bradbury's book dealing with his writing of the movie "Moby Dick" (see below), I scratched my head and was suddenly puzzled that the "Deadpool Killustrated" run of comics, which has the titular character on the front cover of Issue #1, doing the Great White Whale in, seemed to have gone AWOL from my reading list.
Well, once again I did a search for it, and it turns out it was sitting here the whole time and got misfiled! Ouch! So, here goes catch-up.
As a silly anarchistic character, I really like Deadpool. He's aware that he's a comic book character (or, believes himself to be), and acts in a strange isolated void or bubble within the Marvel Universe. "Killustrated #1" begins with Deadpool realizing he'd annihilated the entire Marvel Universe lineup, and turns to his hidden cadre of captured Marvel henchmen for a means of heading off on his new life mission: the untapped world of…classical literature! Before you know it, he's on a merry killing spree throughout the "Ideaverse" (as Deadpool terms it), offing the Pequod's crew; Dracula's Transylvania and Alcott's "Little Women" (issue #2); Dickens "Christmas Carol" and Shelley's "Frankenstein", and sundry other "Classics" (Issue #3). Even "The Little Mermaid" and Verne's "20,000 Leagues" aren't safe. I'm waiting on the final issue, but it's good silly diversionary fun.
Not a new character, but certainly revamped a bit, is Jeph Loeb's "Nova #3". If you've been watching the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon on Disney XD (and I'm proud to say I've seen every episode because, hey, they're fun), you'll know Nova's part of Spidey's precocious teenage S.H.I.E.L.D. team there. Well, Nova's also going to be part of the upcoming "Guardians Of The Galaxy" movie, and it's pretty clear with this issue Marvel are making darn sure you know Nova exists in the Marvel Movie Universe.
Having been given his father's Nova helmet by Gamora and Rocky Raccoon in the previous issue, Sam Alexander finds himself on his first superpowered test-flight…all the way to the moon. And what does he find there? The Watcher! (Albeit with slightly weirdly creepy "Alien Grey" eye-styling from artist Ed McGuinness. If they're going to be portraying The Watcher in the movies sometime soon, I sure hope they're not going with this look.)
After a sweet little interaction with the Giant Bald Guy in which we discover a fleet of alien ships are heading towards Earth, Nova zips back to earth for some exposition-and-training from Gamora and Rocky. What's interesting with this particular comic book, is that the alien fleet is revealed to be the Chitauri, from the first "Avengers" movie. And not only are their "Space Whales" depicted exactly like the movie versions, but we're also told they're bringing "The Ultimate Nullifier". Now, if you know your Marvel history (of course you do, otherwise why would you be reading this?), you'll recognize that the Nullifier (which is of sufficient threat to make even Galactus back off) is some pretty heavy duty hardware. Clearly the Movie Marvel Universe is a little different from the print edition, but as the lines are getting blurry here, and the comic book now seems to serve as Marvel's P.R. piece to get Backsides On Movie Theater Seats, you have to wonder if there are cinematic ramifications for this. Anyway. This was a surprisingly sweet, lightweight, and enjoyable little read.
Joshua Fialkov's "Alpha #3" continues the story of awkward teenage suddenly-superhero Andy Maguire (how I wish they hadn't used that surname), and his struggles to come to terms with his powers while being studied by Doctor Octopus (although we all know he's actually body-swapped with Spider-Man), while simultaneously pursuing a girl who is giving him a hard time. this issue ends with some shadowy bad guys who are promising to do terrible things to Alpha next issue. I hated this character initially, but he's kinda grown on me a bit: thinking about it, DC seem to be presenting here their own teen-friendly version of "Superman", if Superman was imbued with Spider-Man's wisecracking. It's cute. Sorta. Give it a whirl.
Still in Spidey-World, Christoper Yost's "Avenging Spider-Man #19" was something of a psychological shunt sideways from the regular main story for one episode, as the plot here takes place in body-swapped Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus' Id. A benevolent cowled alien entity named The Sleepwalker (and a pretty cool character he is, too) is trying to help rouse Spider-Man from a nightmare state brought on by a parasite called a Fearworm. Battling both abusive father imagery from Ock's childhood (I know, I know: we've been there a million times before), and the very real subconscious identity of Peter Parker still lodged in there and who wants his body back, Ock has to (yes) triumph against his inner demons. Marco Checchetto's artwork is fantastic, especially one incredible sequence that has a giant Cthuloid Octo-Monster From The ID menacing Spidey's neighborhood.
If Alan Moore had had THAT illustration in "Watchmen", squid jokes would not exist today.
Also in Spidey-ville, Cullen Bunn knocks it out of the ballpark with "Venom #34", ably assisted by queasy artwork from Declan Shalvey. In their respective symbiotic suits are Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock, as Venom and Carnage knock seven bells out of one another. Both these titles individually can get old fast, so it's a mark of how good all involved here are that this thing never sags for an instant. Some interesting characters turn up at the end, promising that next issue will be "The Rise Of The Symbiote Slayers". I love the war-amputee Thompson character in this run, and this issue was a standout.
Writer/artist Frank Cho's "Savage Wolverine # 4" is an incredible piece of confectionary. The continuing story is pretty straightforward: after "dying" (hey, this is the Marvel Universe #1) last issue, natives bring Sheena-lookalike Shanna (hey, this is the Marvel Universe #2) back to life using some kind of extracted sap from what appears to be Man-Thing.
Meanwhile, Wolverine goes up against three giant apes. Cho's lifework and ink hatching throughout are just so clean and heartbreaking, it's one of those times you really don't want to rush through the story, but just savor what comes next. It'd be remiss not to mention Jason Keith's beautifully subtle colors.
Matt Fraction's "Fantastic Four #6" only just squeaked through here. This story begins with an unknown and suit-encased prisoner being sent back in time from the End Of The Universe, to the moment of the Big Bang, executed for crimes against the living. That's a pretty cool, and almost Douglas Adams-esque, setup. The Fantastic Four, with Fantasti-Brats in-tow, are on their (tiresome) space mission, and plan to catch the Beginning Of The Universe. I don't think I'm spoiling the story too much if I tell you that the metal-suited figure lashed to an asteroid they rescue turns out to be Blastaar the Baluurian, all the way back from "Fantastic Four #62" in May 1967. I've never liked Blastaar, so it was a little anticlimactic for me after that great setup. Anyway. Superpowered punch-ups occur, and it's all mildly diverting.
I really like Kieron Gillen's writing, but I've only been so-so about his "Godkiller" run on "Iron Man" (which with the "Godhunter" run on "Thor", is confusing enough: someone at Marvel needs to be keeping an eye on this stuff), mostly because I'm not really big on Outer Space "Iron Man" adventures. However, Issue #8 caps off the story of Tony Stark, who has fallen to the bad graces of the Voldi, after they discovered he was responsible for previously destroying the Phoenix Force. This story would have rated a "meh" from me, but I perked up considerably when the giant Galactus-sized Celestials turned up to annihilate the Voldi base-thingie. Say what you will, but the appearance of infinite-powered humungous beings can brighten up anybody's day.
Sam Humphries' "Ultimates #22" has a giant wallop of plot, and a goodly amount of politicking. Starting off with a flashback at the time of the Hunt For Bin Laden, we see a S.H.I.E.L.D. team out in the field fall apart spectacularly, leading to a discussion at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters about their "Black Knight" programme. The plot jumps quickly around from President Captain America (that's still so weird to type that name!) knocking heads together with politicians in the White House, to knocking heads with power-hungry Californian governors. Inbetween is a neat little scene with Thor and Sue Storm at a Hydra base, and finally topping off with Tony Stark relaxing at home before an unexpected (and unwelcome) visitor comes knocking. Yes, there's a lot here. And, it's worth it.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Black Widow head off to an arctic research station.
There's a fair bit of action this issue, and quite a deal made of the stars-and-stripes Iron Patriot armor; presumably to build awareness of it with "Iron Man 3" hitting your local movie theaters next week.
Rick Remender's "Uncanny Avengers #6" is a bit of an odd duck, but no less enjoyable for that. This issue's "Avengers Multiverse" story concerns two attempts to kill Thor in different timezones, by the Celestial Apocalypse. The first page made me laugh aloud: set in Scandinavia in 1013 A.D., one panel drawn by Daniel Acunã has a very clear depiction of Kirk Douglas from the movie "The Vikings", staring on aghast as Thor gets pummeled.
Apocalypse's second murderous attempt takes place centuries later in London, and introduces us to a young "Folkbern Logan', yes: clearly some incarnation of Wolverine. I liked this issue, and I'm curious to see how the story unfolds next time.
But! In Issue #7, Hopeless tosses all the previous Young Avengers posturing so far right out the window to concentrate solely on Arcade and his whole rationale for doing what he does, ably assisted by his Teschmacher-level pulchritudinous assistant, Miss Coriander.
And I have to say, I was surprised.
The story begins with Arcade throwing his annual supervillain bash. I loved this sequence, with everybody sitting around and bitching about how they hate Arcade, but they're only there because his parties are awesome.
Afterwards, a rejected Arcade wallows about in life (taking it perhaps a mite too personally, methinks) before "finding himself", and Hopeless strings the unfolding plot together to ultimately explain why the Avengers are in their current predicament in this title run. I'm sure next issue will return to to the usual programming of Avengers Brat "Lord Of The Flies" decimation, but this was a fascinating respite, and I have a feeling will be the highlight issue of this run. Miss Coriander is a wonderfully cool and dispassionate character, and I'd like to see her arch an unflappable eyebrow in some other titles. (Imagine Jeeves with a killer bod, and you're there.) You could read this one without going back to any of the other issues. This issue is very, very cool. Trust me.
With Chechnyan terrorists very much in the news this past week, it's somehow fitting that Daniel Way's "Thunderbolts #8" starts with General Ross' team tracking down and executing a terrorist cell in that country. There's a fair bit of globehopping with the team going Mission; Impossible on their search for bad guys, including one small subplot with Deadpool behaving erratically that left me wondering if I'd missed an issue somewhere. Still, good action-packed fun.
Jason Aaron's longwindedly titled "Thor: God Of Thunder #007: Godbomb Part One" continues the "Gorr the Godbutcher" arc, and does a little time-zone leaping around. Young Thor and Ancient Thor ready themselves in Asgard to fight the Godbutcher. This is a bit of a "padding" issue, with the final frame ominously explaining the meaning of the newly tacked-on title. Despite this installment taking a long time to really not go anywhere, it's terrifically well written, whooshes by at lightspeed, and boasts more delicious artwork from the Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina ink and color team. I have to say: did I blink and miss Beta Ray Bill in this tale, or did somebody turn him into dogfood? (You'd also think that The Watcher might care to put in an appearance, too, given the Universal Sturm Und Drang on display…)
There's a part of me that reads Cullen Bunn's "Fearless Defenders #3", and wants to hate it for being a calculated attempt to put together a Girls Club Only issue, with all the sub-Buffyesque tropes that come with that. But, I just can't. It's breezy and delightful fun as our trio of lady heroes (sorry, "heroines") square off against Hela, and are informed that Dark Valkyries have been resurrected. And so, off they go to fight said nasties at a Ground Zero testing facility somewhat like the one Indiana Jones took a Refrigerator Ride in, only populated by Superhero Mannequins.
That's the plot, and there's a lot of fun characterization and snarky, bitchy dialogue along the way. So, yeah. I liked it. (Grumble, grumble…)
Brian Michael Bendis' "Age Of Ultron #5 AU" was interesting, although not a great deal of actual plotting happens. The remaining Avengers grab The Vision and find Nick Fury (the original whitey-white non-Sam Jackson flavor) in the Savage Lands. There's a lot of exposition, and they all tool-up to take-on Ultron (hopefully) next issue. Despite the lack of action pyrotechnics, it was an engaging enough read, and I like this thru-story, anyway. Not recommended for the "dip in" reader, but if you're invested in this storyline, you're there anyway.
Still in "Ultronville", and far better, was Matt Kindt's "X-Men And Wolverine #27AU".
Shades of "Terminator", in this Sue Storm and Wolverine go back in time in Nick Fury's stolen hover-Porsche (yes, seriously!) to prevent Hank Pym from creating Ultron. Stopping off at a S.H.I.E.L.D. substation to pilfer an energy cell for the car, Wolverine and Sue (despite warning each other about the Butterfly Effect) both cause potential damage to the future timeline.
There's a LOT to like in this issue, including some wonderful emulations of old-school Marvel issues, and the super-pair make a really good team. You end up hitting the last page in disappointment that there isn't more. Big thumbs-up.
And, really, if you read the aforementioned "X-Men And Wolverine", then you need to also read Brian Michael Bendis' "Age Of Ultron #6AU", as they both seem to happen at the same time! The aforementioned stolen Nick Fury time car from the other title? Well, you see them steal it here. And then, you see them go to Past New York in order to stop Pym. While all this is happening, the remaining Avengers head off to storm Ultron's citadel. It's difficult to say if this or Kindt's issue is the better of the two, but there's no doubt the ending of this one is definitely a shocker, and is going to throw the timeline into chaos. I can't wait for the next issue. Highly recommended.
In the last issue, a kid and his father went on a murderous rampage with some super-advanced weaponry, and Logan was on their trail determined to stop the kid. This installment picks up that chase. What just struck a wrong chord for me here, was that bystanders are being vaporized left-and-right, while Wolverine's calmly trying to talk to the kid.
Uh…what? Even though I'm not the biggest "X-Men" fan in the world, this isn't any kind of incarnation of Wolverine I'm familiar with. The story redeemed itself with a promising final giant splash page of The Watcher turning up, so begrudgingly I had to mention this issue, even though I think Cornell overall botched the tone. Mostly because I love The Watcher. Sue me.
Once more in the Land Of Ultron, was Kathryn Immonen's "Ultron #1AU", and very good it is too. The whole issue is basically a set-up for Victor Mancha, formerly of the Runaways. Discovering he's Ultron's "son" and designed to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers (basically a Terminator, to all intents), Victor rebels and has been hiding out with a group of kids in a subterranean base. There's a lot of wordplay here, but that in no way makes this boring. It's actually one of the better titles this week.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's "Daredevil #25" was a bit of a "Whoah!" issue. I like a lot (though am not a diehard fan) of "Daredevil", so I'm pleased to say this might be one of the best "Daredevil" issues I've ever read.
Following on from the jaw hanging last installment, in which a whole crazed group with the exact same powers as Daredevil are dropped into the city and cause chaos, Matt Murdock this time follows up leads to who might be responsible. While he isn't there yet, he falls afoul of the Unknown Boss' super-powered sidekick, Ikari (helpfully box-explained as being the Japanese for "Fury".) Wearing Murdock's father's boxing cowl, this new interloper proceeds to take Daredevil apart in a spectacular (and I DO mean, "Very Well Staged") fight that runs throughout the city, leaving Daredevil down, down, down.
That next issue's installment is called "The Man With Fear" was enough to get me excited. VERY recommended.
One final "Whoah!" issue was Rick Remender's "Captain America #6". This has been an odd storyline, with Cap having being trapped in an Alternate Dimension by former Hydra loon Zola, as he tried to clone him. For me, this story really pushed too far out of the Marvel-verse. But with John Romita jr and Klaus Janson inking, the thing kept giving me waves of Miller's "Dark Knight" deja vu. And with an ending where Cap does something you'd never, ever thought you'd see Cap do…well. I don't know. Did Marvel go too far with this issue? You read it, and judge for yourself.
Okay, then. Over into the Dizzy DC-ville.
Mike Johnson's "Supergirl #19" was a pretty important one for DC continuity.
And to make matters worse, Lex Luthor sends a musclebound hulk named Appex in to fight them for almost no reason, other than to apparently make Powergirl's clothes fall off.
I'll hit you with a spoiler here, but it's pretty much there from Page One: Powergirl IS Supergirl, just all grown up. (Powergirl's origins have varied all over the place from one thing to the other since she was introduced, so we're laying that one down here, I guess.)
I was cheered at the end of this issue, as Powergirl FINALLY loses her one piece spandex number (not like that, you dirty bunch: minds out of the gutter), and gets her old costume back!
Yay! Cosplay at Comic Con this year is saved again!
Now, if they can only give Powergirl the sparky and playful inventiveness she had in her stories before this DC reboot, I'll be a happy camper again.
Peter J. Tomasi's "Batman And Red Robin #19" was chock full o' goodies. The first shocker is that we're reintroduced to spunky Carrie Kelley, the Robin from Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" universe. That one alone will have you going "Wah…huh?" Then, Batman abducts Frankenstein ("Agent of S.H.A.D.E." flavor), with the specific aim of torturing him into resurrecting his recently deceased son Damien…even to the icily disturbing point of actually dismembering him. That alone was kind of a "Whoah: Batman's way outside his remit!" moment for me, and if this continues then it's going to take Superman-level action to haul his chain back in.
Pat Gleason's winning artwork (with some really nice pop-y/subtle coloring from John Kalisz) totally won me over on this title. Beautiful inks from Mick Gray also: a couple of panels seem very deliberately his homage to Bernie Wrightson, and extremely engaging they were, too. This issue is highly, muchly, VERY recommended.
Scott Snyder's "Batman #19" moved like greased lightning, and was a splendidly good read. By the time I'd gotten to the final page, he'd tossed in so much story, dialogue, and plot points, that I couldn't believe I'd hit the end. The tale begins with Bruce Wayne pulling off a bank heist by Bruce Wayne, in which Wayne yes, so it would seem blows Gordon away, and ends with the pretty cool reintroduction of a familiar foe. I will say that the time-shifting flashback editing is a little confusing here for a single issue, but will likely make much more sense once it's collected in an overall trade paperback. Still: good stuff.
"Batgirl #17" didn't have much substance to it: in a nutshell, Barbara Gordon is tracking down her gone-bad brother James, and that's about all she wrote. Although the artwork's fairly average, there's some good characterization from Gail Simone that merits a cautious recommendation for this issue.
Geoff Johns' "Justice League" didn't unleash much pyrotechnics this time around, aside from some absolutely beautiful artwork from Ivan Reis.
The two main components of this set-up story concern a break-in by an unauthorized intruder into the Batcave (with some great cameos from the movie Batmobiles scattered around in the background), and the repercussions of Batman and Wonder Woman making an incursion into a hostile Middle Eastern country, and Batman's subsequent confrontation of them for it.
The story this time: Constantine's on the trail of Croydon's Dial (a supernatural McGuffin doohickey), requiring him to do a little globetrotting. There's an appearance from Mister E, and another from The Spectre; this latter one I think being one of the most effective uses of the character I've ever seen, and a voiceover from Constantine about how the encounter left him physically unable to move for a half hour afterwards really drove home how the potential for how cool The Spectre can be, in the right author's hands.
The final page, which foreshadows Constantine heading in to London, is worth it all by itself.
Marcelo Maiolo's coloring in this issue deserves to be singled out. There's a wonderful scene that begins this issue, with Constantine being kidnapped through the jungle on a flatbed truck, and Maiolo filling in some of the most beautiful interplay of light on the characters from the forest canopy above that I can remember seeing in a comic book. Read this title!
Tomasi is on-form again this month: his "Green Lantern Corps #19" continues the title-spanning "Wrath Of The First Lantern" story, with über-Lantern Volthoom, who was there at the Creation of the Universe, taking down the Corps' remnants…and the surprise (well, not really if you've been reading so far!) appearance of Mogo, the living Lantern planet. Fantastic and insanely-detailed artwork from Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna. I loved this issue, which was epically huge and fun, and I can't wait until the wrap-up next issue.
And, in Tony Beddard's "Green Lantern New Guardians #19", the Volthoom saga continues. With Sinestro's planet Korugar destroyed, the Lantern is pissed and wants revenge, and the means to doing that is the White Power Ring. Unfortunately, like Thor's hammer, few are deemed worthy. This issue was basically a "Time Out Interlude", but it was still a good read in this storyline, and with excellent art from Andres Guinaldo.
Bedard's at it again for "DC Universe Presents #19: Beowulf", introducing a "new" character to the DC lineup. I mean, really. With Marvel trying to duplicate Superboy in "Alpha", is this a tit-for-tat with DC trying to add a "Thor" to their lineup? In this, Beowulf is a genetically created warrior from another time, who turns up in present day Metropolis in pursuit of a monster who shapechanges through the major DC superhero characters. The story climaxes with a coy "The End?" tag, but you know DC are straining at the leash to get a successful new title out of this. It was…fine. And it left me curious to see where they'd go with it.
One thing: I am HATING these "Channel 52 News Bulletin" pages that DC now puts at the end of each issue. They're in a "Superhero News" format, presented much like "Entertainment Tonight".
Seriously, guys: they do the same thing that regular commercials do. They do nothing to add to the issue, take me out of the moment, and spoil my enjoyment of what's come before. Have an editorial meeting, and ditch these things, please.
ON THE LIBRARY SHELVES
Just for fun, I dusted off an old Ray Bradbury I hadn't hitherto been aware of.
His portrayal of Huston as a cruel bastard seems fairly spot-on, but beyond that…I don't know. Because of that, the book is ultimately worthless as a piece of cinematic history. It's a shame, especially when you contrast it with Arthur C Clarke's book "The Lost Worlds Of 2001", which gives a terrific blow-by-blow of his working relationship with Stanley Kubrick on that movie.
AT THE MOVIES
I went off to the theaters for the new Tom Cruise movie "Oblivion", which I was relieved to see wasn't exhibited in 3-D. Unlike most of the interweb armchair pundits, I need to watch what I say in my reviews unfortunately, because I'll likely need to work in the future with many of the people whose films I critique here. So I'll keep this tactful by saying that I thought it was a technically-impeccable movie with fantastic production design. But, when a film has its hero explaining to his heroine what happened to her, by using the EXACT SAME dialogue that Burke said to Ripley at the beginning of "Aliens", it gets an obligatory red mark alongside it from me...
IN THE REAL WORLD
Away from all things reviewable and consumable for a moment, I'm sorry if I clamber aboard my little hobby horse for a rant for the moment.
I was extremely dismayed (for all kinds of reasons) to see that Deluxe Film Laboratories in Australia had shuttered their doors on April 19th. That's a fairly damning final blow for film in the Southern Hemisphere. I believe that shooting on video has just taken over the 50% mark now. In a press statement, the Australia branch's managing director Alaric McCausland made the ill-judged and wince-inspiring statement, "The industry has moved on." Uh, no, Alaric. There's a helluva lot of us out here who want to shoot on film, still (including Spielberg and Christopher Nolan).
To add insult to injury, Technicolor in England are also shuttering (and Technicolor had subcontracted Deluxe's film to begin with). This state of affairs is absolutely unbelievable to me. Film as a visual medium has reached its apex after a hundred years of development, and video still hasn't caught up to the image quality, with "noise" (read: crappy picture quality) at low light levels (so, all you guys who like horror movies better get used to the substandard picture from now on), and "rolling shutter" problems (essentially meaning all you folks will complain about the picture being choppy when the camera pans). Film is being rushed to the precipice to be hurled off, and it absolutely staggers me there isn't a cohesive industry effort to at least entrench for those of us that want to shoot film. Apart from the techno-fetish nutjobs who caused this debacle, I think a significant majority of us would prefer to ship film, but we're all being forced to ultimately head to video, it looks like, as there's simply becoming no other recourse.
I mention above that I saw "Oblivion" last week. That movie was shot on the newish Sony F-65 camera, which differs from many of the current crop of digital cameras inasmuch as it has a mechanical ("rotary") lens shutter, just as a film camera does. (It was also shot at 4k, which is twice the resolution you generally see when you go to a movie theater's digital projection, but unfortunately like most of the rest of you I was only able to view a standard 2k transfer.) The F-65's results during the brightly-lit daytime scenes were staggeringly good; but during the scenes when Tom Cruise had to venture into a darkly-lit subterranean world, less-than-thrilling black levels, much like your iPhone shooting nightvision, occasionally wobbily belied their digital origin.
I'm with "Batman Begins"/"Inception" cinematographer Wally Pfister, who (along with Nolan himself), launched a wonderful anti-3-D, anti-digital rant in the excellent (and must-see) recent "Film vs Video" documentary, "Side By Side" (hosted by Keanu Reeves).
Digital will likely be perfect one day. It's not there yet. And so neither am I.
That's it for this time. Don't eat the green ones. They're not ripe, yet…